4 Big Green Trends at the 2011 CES

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The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was impressive – and massive. At the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) alone, 3.2 million square feet of floor space were available to highlight the plethora of innovative products and ideas at the show.

"Convergence" products were huge at CES. For example, Panasonic's Viera Connect will allow users to watch TV, surf the Web, control devices, play games and more...all in one product. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911

Convergence, “smart” technology and revised use-case scenarios rocked the scene. Cell phones now control refrigerators, TVs surf the Web and stream online content, and glasses-free 3-D TV is already in the works.

Sustainability itself moved from a trend at past CES experiences to a practical expectation at this year’s show. Here’s a look at the top four themes that we caught onto in Earth911’s travels this past week.

1. Energy efficiency

The name of the game in greening up your tech starts with reducing its overall power consumption. “Smart” technologies in home appliances especially took this trend to a new level, with home appliances like refrigerators, washing machines and ovens that monitor the grid and can tell users when the least expensive time to run a cycle or cook a meal will occur.

These appliances will also learn when you most often use them (such as how many times a day and when you open the freezer) and adjust the temperature accordingly to keep foods fresh, even at slightly warmer temperatures, to reduce power consumption. You can even receive a text message from your oven to start and stop cooking cycles when you’re out in the backyard or even on the road.

Companies also met energy efficiency standards head-on, and the U.S. EPA is already revising its Energy Star program to take the requirements up another notch.

The bottom line is that consumers can expect their gadgets to strive to maximize efficiency and minimize power drain in new, intuitive ways.

2. Monitoring home energy usage

Jumping off of the efficiency trend, being able to monitor and control your home energy usage from any location is a huge theme in consumer electronics (CE).

“Smart” plugs offer a fast way to modify existing homes in order to monitor power usage, without needing a full-scale home energy monitoring (HEM) system.

While their features vary by manufacturer, essentially, smart plugs are outlet units that plug into regular household outlets to prevent vampire power drain, monitor energy consumption and generally reduce the overall costs to run various electronics.

Many versions offer wi-fi or radio wave technology that communicate consumption rates to energy profiles accessible from any location. This capability, as well as updates available by text or email, make unusual usage patterns easier to spot and money easier to save in the process.

3. E-cycling and utilizing recycled materials in products

As part of companies’ overall corporate social responsibility (CSR) plans, electronics recycling inevitably comes into play. As the Official Recycling Partner of the 2011 CES, Earth911 may be a bit biased in its focus and emphasis on this trend. But in the wide world of gadget production, e-cycling is an important topic.

Companies are establishing (and have established) nationwide collection opportunities and responsible recycling initiatives for not only their own tech, but their competitors’ as well. With e-cycling searches on the Earth911 Recycling Directory increasing 48 percent last year alone, these are necessary and desired ways for consumers to contribute to sustainability.

Utilization of reclaimed materials both from post- and pre-consumer streams is also a hot trend across manufacturers. For example, the Sony Alpha A55 DSLR series camera bodies are made from post-industrial waste made from the CD and DVD manufacturing process. Also, Panasonic has a goal to use 16 percent recycled materials in every product it makes by 2018.

4. Convergence

Essentially, the concept of “convergence” implies that gadgets can do more outside of their traditional range of functionality.

The newly revealed smart TVs from LG gave a perfect example of this by showcasing a platform that brings more advanced levels of streaming online content and Web browsing. Panasonic’s new integrated TVs host chatting on Skype, visiting Facebook and even tracking your fitness to the traditional television experience.

Convergence of tech means that fewer resources are utilized to produce the same capabilities, and it may mean that people buy “smarter” for their lifestyles. Rather than having more CE devices, they purchase fewer that have more functionality.

The trend has yet to play out, and Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Senior Research Analyst Ben Arnold says it may not affect purchasing either way. “The nature of technology and innovation means we are constantly seeing new products enter the home that are additive rather than replacements,” he tells Earth911. “I definitely don’t think we’ll need fewer devices, I actually think we are finding places where we can use new ones.”

Either way, it’s important at the end of life for all our gadgets, that they are responsibly recycled to find a new life and a new usage.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 was the Official Recycling Partner and the Official Green Media Partner, as well as the Sustainable Planet TechZone sponsor at the 2011 CES. Read here for more information about how Earth911 was a part of the e-cycling conversation at this year’s show.

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